Wednesday, July 18, 2018
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Coleman and Kennedy pressed to block drilling in Arctic reserve

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The budget reconciliation bill could contain a provision that would allow oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service/Getty Images )
Congress is expected to vote soon on a federal budget reconciliation bill that could allow oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, also known as ANWR. A coalition of environmental groups are asking Sen. Norm Coleman and Rep. Mark Kennedy, both R-Minn., to reject the bill if it contains a drilling provision, as expected. Coleman and Kennedy are considered swing votes because they have voted against drilling in ANWR in the past.

St. Paul, Minn. — Three environmental groups and an Episcopal Minister urged Minnesota's delegation to stand firm in protecting the Arctic Refuge.

Lois Norrgard, with the Alaska Coalition, says drilling would destroy ANWR's pristine wilderness tundra, a place where polar bears den in the winter and Porcupine caribou breed in the spring.

Besides, Norrgard says, there probably isn't enough oil in ANWR to give the U.S. what it's seeking - energy independence.

"It'll take 10 years before the infrastructure is in place to even get the first drop of oil," she says. "There will be a steady incline at a top peak of about 1.5 billion barrels of oil per year, and then it will drop off to nothing again." Norrgard says at best, ANWR might be able to generate up to 4-percent of the U.S. oil supply. But there's no guarantee that the oil would stay in the U.S. She says oil companies would be free to sell it to higher bidders in other countries.

Environmental groups are putting pressure on Sen. Norm Coleman and Rep. Mark Kennedy, both R-Minn., because while they've voted to protect ANWR in the past, they're also under intense pressure to approve the budget reconciliation bill.

"The difference is going to come in the moderate Republicans across the country who have voted consistently to protect the Arctic Refuge in stand alone votes."
- Samantha Yarbrough

Samantha Yarbrough with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group says the vote will be a close one.

"It is widely speculated that the difference is going to come in the moderate Republicans across the country who have voted consistently to protect the Arctic refuge in stand alone votes," says Yarbrough. "In Minnesota there are actually three people who fall into this category, Sen. Norm Coleman, Rep. Mark Kennedy and Rep.Ramstad."

Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., has told her organization that he will vote against drilling in the Arctic Refuge. But Coleman and Kennedy have not told her how they will vote.

The remainder of the Minnesota delegation is expected to vote along party lines according to Yarbrough, with Democrats opposing drilling in ANWR and Republicans supporting it.

Sen. Coleman was not available for comment, but his spokesman Tom Steward says the Senator agrees that drilling in ANWR is not a good energy solution.

But he says Coleman is also concerned that there's a lot on the line for Minnesota in the new budget bill.

"He certainly opposes drilling in ANWR. He's made that clear when it comes up as a stand alone item," says Steward. "But he's inclined to vote for this budget because the fact of the matter is it would greatly harm Minnesota's interests in his view not to."

Steward says the federal budget bill preserves many important safety net programs for Minnesotans including Medicaid and some farm subsidies. Rep. Kennedy says he's hasn't decided how he will vote on the budget reconciliation bill. But he's not happy about attempts to open up more oil drilling.

"It is possible that the inclusion of ANWR would result in me voting no. I haven't seen the bill and all the pieces and how they would affect Minnesota but drilling in ANWR is something that I feel strongly that we should not be doing and will continue to push for it not to be included in reconciliation," Kennedy says.

Kennedy says he's sent letters to Congressional leaders encouraging them not to include ANWR oil drilling in the federal budget bill. Congress is expected to vote on the bill in the next few weeks.

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